This week, Gawker posted its last story. The snarky, gossipy website was the scourge of the New York media establishment, Hollywood and Silicon Valley (among other communities). Plenty has been written already about who killed Gawker and whether we should mourn its death or celebrate its destruction. We’ll leave that debate to others. One thing that can’t be denied was that from Gawker’s demise, we can extract a variety of professional lessons. Here are four important ones:
Avoid making powerful enemies
Gawker was renowned for publishing all sorts of embarrassing scoops about powerful people. One of those people was Peter Thiel, a tech billionaire who was outed by Gawker in 2007. A little less than a decade later, Thiel would have his revenge by secretly bankrolling Hulk Hogan to sue Gawker for their breach of privacy after they posted a sex video of him and his then best-friend’s wife. The screenplay for this entire episode writes itself. While your career is unlikely to ever mirror this bizarre incident, it worthwhile considering the larger lesson. Many people do not forgive and forget. They hold onto their anger if they’ve been wronged and given the opportunity, may act against your interests. The more people you’ve wronged out there, the more likely you’ll be stung later on down the line. Bottom line: unnecessarily antagonizing people will likely pay the wrong kind of long term dividends.
Retain your vision of who you are…
One of the criticisms Gawker faced towards its end was that its evolution away from its snarky, gossip blog roots and towards being a contemporary, sarcastic news site (complete with fancy, but not particularly workable comment engine) about politics and news was untenable and inauthentic. This transition had many staff reportedly wondering if they were in the middle of a psychic rift. Part of this was a natural evolution. As Gawker became bigger and attracted more brands, it became increasingly dis-incented to engage in mean spirited (but often entertaining) attacks. But this move created confusion among many writers about just how far they could push the envelope. Such chaos can manifest itself in your own professional life. Staying true to your own vision of what you bring the table and what your values are is critical – especially as new opportunities present themselves. Should a stay or should I go? If you or your work are evolving away from each other and you no longer feel you’ve clearly bought into the vision, you’ve got a problem and it might be time to either give your head a shake and get with the program, or start charting your exit.
…but always avoid being too mean
As mentioned earlier, Gawker built its early reputation on being snarky, caustic, sarcastic and, yes at times downright mean. Many of its posts were based around gossip – some of which was true and some of which wasn’t. In the short term, this sort of approach can feel cathartic and build a following (everyone wants to hear the dirt at the start). Indeed, we all know people who like to build relationships by gossiping about others. But longer term it can be deadly (see above re: powerful enemies’ part of this post). After all, being typecast as the mean-spirited gossip of the office just isn’t a good idea for long term gain.Eventually it’ll either leave you isolated, surrounded by other mean spirited people or on a way to firing.
Set clear metrics and keep your eyes fixed on them
Traffic was a core piece of Gawker’s model. Posts were ranked by view with a scoreboard in the company headquarters so everyone had a clear and specific understanding of how their posts were landing. Staff were constantly exhorted by founder Nick Denton to enhance their posts to draw in more clicks by punching up their headlines, publishing things other media outlets wouldn’t and generally pushing the “journalistic” envelope as far as they could. Such ceaseless focus on one bottom line (hits/attention) can be exhilarating, effective and motivating and Gawker’s model has done a lot to influence mainstream media, too. When you boil it all down to a few numbers, success becomes crystal clear. Gawker certainly isn’t the only place where metrics are critical. In the book Good to Great, author Jim Collins focusses the quantification of what success looks like as a critical component. Think about ways you can quantify success on your own projects and embed them into the evaluation of your program. Then hold yourself (and your team) to account.